Key Tracks: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” “Drinking With the Jocks”
In a small number of scattered homes throughout America, there are sexist Nazi punks who have to wake up every morning and draw over their Against Me! tattoos with sharpies. There is a truly despicable branch of people known as Nazi punks, who love any political punk band and can wrongfully relate the band’s liberal politics to their own hateful ones. Nazi punks have been taken on before – notably here and here – but “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is an indirect strike. Against Me!s first five albums were sharply political and tackled political issues more directly than almost any other band. But this is their first album since singer Tom Gabel came out as transgender and announced she would be living as Laura Jane Grace. And as one of the first successful transgender singers, and certainly the most famous one in the punk community – this becomes an incredibly important album.
Grace’s transition is addressed in the majority of the album’s songs. The two opening tracks, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” and “True Trans Soul Rebel” are the most direct. “You want them to see you like they every other girl / They just see a faggot” she sings on the title track. The album perfectly balances the line between heart and anger; each song is a lesson, an attempt to teach shitheads that don’t understand the transgender life. It borders on a shock lesson – “I want to piss on the walls of your house / I want to cut those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers” she sings on the closer, “Black Me Out.” “Drinking With the Jocks” is a pounding track about recognizing differences, and “Unconditional Love” is a brutal, self-deprecating song about loving someone with identification issues. Tracks 5 and 6 are likely to go down as two of the best titles of the year – “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” and “FUCKMYLIFE666.” It’s shocking, even for them, but it’s necessary.
Unfortunately, some of the songs don’t hold up simply on a musical standpoint. While all good on their own, some of them blend together a little too much. The album’s middle sags under songs that have the energy of classic Against Me!, but don’t have the unique songwriting. This might be reflective of a band that has kind of fallen apart. Since “White Crosses” in 2010, two members of the band quit. Famous punk drummer Atom Willard was brought on for percussion work, and Grace just handled bass herself (except NoFX’s Fat Mike, who shows up on two tracks). Still, Gabel’s voice was always very strong, and that hasn’t changed through the transition. Grace’s vocals are strong and have a wide range.
When “White Crosses” came out, it was preceded by an exceptionally boring single, “I Was A Teenage Anarchist.” It felt like a coda; the statement of maturity felt like the band giving up. But they’re recharged on “Transgender.” They have a renewed energy and a new MO. They’re hitting territories never hit by a punk band before. This might not go down in history like the band wants it to, simply because it doesn’t have their most memorable songs, but it should still serve as an incredibly important work and stamps an intense start to 2014. Grace is nothing less than a hero, and “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” acts as a proud, invasive, angry, heartful and necessary mess.
-By Andrew McNally